Last week an all female post-punk band played on the lower east side. No big deal you think? Well they were hasidic women, and as their religion stipulates, no men were allowed to watch them so it was an all girls act to an all girls audience. I applaud the work of the all female Hasidic rock band Bulletproof Stockings. I'm glad that they exist in the world and have garnered so much media attention. However, Bulletproof Stockings are not the first Hasidic rock band to play in secular venues (perhaps the first all female Hasid band to do so). In 1993 I was 15 years old, and playing in various shitty punk bands. One night I went to catch a friend's band, called Mind Sounds, at Club Bené in New Jersey. The unforgettable headlining act that night was called the Mohels (pronounced "moy-als").
Like anyone living in New York, I can't help but be intrigued by the Hasidic community. They wear a never-changing uniform of all black trench coats, beards and payot in 100-degree weather. The women wear wigs and I've never seen a female hasidic in pants. They have a strict dress code and mostly keep to themselves. For those who are unfamiliar, a Mohel is a rabbi whose job it is to clip a Jewish boy's foreskin shortly after he's born. This occasion, which is called a Bris, is very important in the Jewish religion. The only time in pop culture I can think of when Mohels reached the mainstream of public consciousness is an episode of Seinfeld titled "The Bris." In 1993, I had not seen Seinfeld yet and had zero knowledge of Hasidic life.
On that night in 1993 there was a shift. The Mohels came in. Dressed as their religion dictates, they set up their own equipment, they had no roadies, and from what I understand they couldn't play from sundown Friday to Saturdays because of the Sabbath. Needless to say, this was a mid-week show. I didn't know what to expect. A few minutes later the Mohels took the stage. All the punks in the crowd became silent out of sheer curiosity. Some people thought it was a gag. I heard repressed laughter. The Mohels looked like four Rabbis up there. They were in full Hasidic gear and were already sweating under the lights. They were HEAVY. A number of bands came to mind. They sounded a little like Discharge, Flipper or the Melvins. I thought they were great and so unique. I recall very little banter between the songs. The singer/ guitarist introduced himself as Mickey Mohel. I can't remember the names of the others. This is 21 years ago after all. I remember this because his guitar strap had the initials M.M. emblazoned into the leather.
After the show I bought their 8 song cassette (my mother is actively searching through boxes of my old things to find it) which I believe was self distributed and briefly chatted with them, amazed that they were still fully suited up. This was before I realized that this was a religious requirement.
They were very friendly despite how uncomfortable they appeared to be.
I listened to the tape and loved it. Some of the song titles I remember were "I Sat Shivah," and "Ki Lo Yitosh" (which I learned while writing this is a traditional Hasidic song). This was before the Internet and it was tough to stay current on underground bands. I don't remember the zines of the time keeping me up on the Mohels.
Little about the Mohels is known, here's a list of rumors and some loose facts I've collected:
- Formed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn but never played in New York for fear that the Hasidic community would find out about them.
- Did one tour but only made it as far as the Midwest. Rumor has it because of the lack of kosher restaurants.
- Mickey Mohel moved to Israel to live on a Kibbutz.
- They actually were Mohels.
Around this time I also remember seeing Shelter, which was a Hare Krishna hardcore band. The early 1990's was a time when punk was trying to find and redefine its identity again. This included politics and religion, which was antithetical to the early punk ethos. The Mohels were original and I would hate to see them become totally forgotten to history. Perhaps all the media interest in Bulletproof Stockings may lead to the masses discovering the Mohels, much like the way people discovered Detroit's Death a few years ago.
Please write to me if you have any information on the Mohels:
Good luck- I've been researching like crazy.